When Steve Carmany’s seminary professors told him to find a church and stay put, he listened.
Thirty-five years later and the reverend is now getting ready to retire from the United Church of Huntington. Carmany also followed the advice, “Stay 50 years, but be ready to leave in five minutes.”
“Ministry flows out of relationships,” Carmany said. “Every time you move you have to start over with relationships and people don’t immediately feel comfortable.”
He was fresh out of school and newly married, barely 25, when he moved to Huntington Township to begin pastoring at the church in 1980. He attended school in California and his wife, Connie, had just won “The Match Game,” a television game show.
They felt flush — enough to pay off a student debt and move; some of their winnings went to help build a basement addition under the 1847 sanctuary.
Now, seven children, eight grandchildren, and one major church addition later and he’s presided over so many weddings, baptisms, and funerals that he can’t even count them.
“It’s been a great privilege to be with people at the high points in their life and also the sad time, likes deaths, including sudden deaths or relationships imploding,” Carmany said, reflecting on his career.
He gives his last sermon this Sunday. “I have no idea what I’m going to say, I start to cry just thinking about it.”
The average pastor’s tenure is less than five years, Carmany said. His predecessor was there 26 years.
“Since the end of World War II, the two of us have been here 61 years,” Carmany said. “I don’t know of any other place like that.”
When Carmany arrived, his flock was about 60 people. Today it’s about 135. Half the churches in America have about 75 or fewer people, so by those standards the church is not tiny.
The community has shifted from being agriculturally-based, where church times had to adjust around milking schedules, to having a presence on Facebook.
Congregationally-governed churches find and select their own pastors, said Carmany. Interim pastor Joe Gerkin will commute from Grand Rapids, Mich., and will partner with associate pastor Joel Bucklin.
“The transition will be hard for everyone. It will be a real adjustment,” Carmany said. “In the transition they’re losing one friend, I’m losing like 200. They’ll be fine, they really will. I’m not concerned about the future of this church.”
Sara Twining, a member of the church, called Carmany “a man of integrity and humor. He has taught us the word of God from the Bible and made it very clear and easy to follow.”
Carmany and his wife, a nurse practitioner, will move to Canton. Carmany, who has had two heart attacks, said he plans to give his heart a chance to rest, spend time with his grandkids, and catch up on reading non-fiction history.
“There is stress in ministry,” he said. “I call it ‘sneaky’ stress. It’s not the stress of pushing a large rock up a hill but it’s emotionally stressful dealing with people and people in a crisis. Like most American males I’m not great in the language of emotion.”
Taking a quiet moment to digest the landmarks of the past 35 years in his mind, he said, “After you have been at a church for 35 years, when you’re burying someone, the person you’re burying is almost always a friend.”
In 2001, the church, which traces its local roots back to 1822, built a 10,000-square-foot addition — another major milestone.
A special 10 a.m. service will be held Sunday, Jan. 3 to mark Carmany’s retirement. A meal will follow.
Catherine Gabe can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @ReporterGabe on Twitter.
Catherine Gabe | Wellington Enterprise “My walk with God is similar to what other Christians face,” said retiring pastor Steve Carmany. “It’s about trying to serve Christ every day and get up and do the next right thing.”